Nick Martindale looks at how Leeds-based digital marketing agency Search Laboratory has taken significant steps to improve mental health wellbeing
Renae Shaw, head of HR at Leeds-based digital marketing agency Search Laboratory, made it her mission to get the topic of mental health on the firm's agenda just over two years ago.
"With any company initiative we need to make sure we have buy-in at the right level so I spoke with the board about the financial and the moral reasons for looking at this," she says. "I'm very lucky in that I have a board of directors that really got it, so that bit was very easy."
The next step was to set up a company wellbeing week, based around National Stress Awareness Day in November, and the business ran a number of free sessions where staff could discuss their physical and mental health with experts. "We had various other activities throughout the week to raise awareness, and we had the strapline of ‘Say Something'," she says. "We wanted people to know they could talk about any issues and that we would listen."
That first wellbeing week was followed by a number of other initiatives, including putting all the management team through mental health first aid training. "We also asked for volunteers from the staff to go through that training and had an overwhelming response," says Shaw. "So far 50% of our headcount have now had mental health first aid training."
The business, which employs 140 people in the UK and 15 in New York, has also focused on how to prevent staff becoming unwell in the first place. "We have a quarterly audit where managers look for anything that could contribute to people not being in a good place, for example if there's any significant change on the horizon," she adds. "We're also focusing on the measures that help us feel well such as having a sense of purpose, engagement and learning."
Search Laboratory also offers a number of other benefits designed to help people cope with stress and stay healthy, including mindfulness sessions, free gym membership and how-to health seminars, as well as offering free face-to-face private counselling through an employee assistance programme.
The response from employees to the greater emphasis on mental health has been extremely positive, says Shaw. "People are much more open now about saying why they have been off work," she says. "This isn't a new topic but they're more honest now and are asking for help sooner."
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